Superintendent's Notebook: Future is now for Portland elementary schools

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Thank you, Portland voters, for making your commitment to quality education in modern facilities so clear at the polls.

On Nov. 7, Portland voters overwhelmingly approved a proposal to renovate four aging elementary schools: Longfellow, Lyseth, Presumpscot and Reiche. The voters’ approval authorizes the city to bond $64.3 million to fund these renovations.

These buildings have been part of a plan called “Buildings for Our Future,” which was launched in 2014 to address their significant deficiencies. Now we are in a position to upgrade these facilities. These upgrades will enable all elementary students in the district to attend safe schools designed for 21st century learning.

Portland’s public schools are unique in Maine. That’s not just because we’re the largest and most diverse school district in the state, but also because of the tremendous commitment by our community to its schools. Portlanders are generous with their schools because they recognize that great schools are inextricably linked to our community’s vitality. As a school leader in this state, I don’t take this for granted and I am deeply grateful to live and work in this amazing community.

Renovations at Longfellow, Lyseth, Presumpscot and Reiche are necessary to transform these schools into the kind of modern learning environments that will best prepare our students for college and career success in the 21st century.

These renovations are critically needed now because of accessibility and safety issues. Problems include asbestos and auditoriums that don’t meet modern safety codes, and heating systems and windows that are outdated. Several of the schools are overcrowded.

We strive to make improvements to our school buildings each year, prioritized based on the needs of each facility and available funding in the budget, but we haven’t been able to make significant capital investment to these schools since they were built 40 to 65 years ago. Last year, we completed a comprehensive analysis of all our facilities. This study shows that we have deferred and expected maintenance costs of $321 million in the next 20 years.

Renovating our elementary schools will help us fulfill the Portland Public Schools Promise.

As I discussed in detail in last month’s column, we have promised the Portland community to prepare and empower our students for their future by working to realize the four goals established in our Comprehensive Plan: Achievement, Whole Student, Equity, and People.

As part of the Portland Promise, we’ve also begun a community campaign to highlight the unique educational experience that Portland’s public schools offer and illustrate why our district is a great choice for families. Our updated school buildings will help convince even more families that Portland is right for them.

Now that the bond package has been approved, we can begin the process for proceeding with the work to renovate the four schools.

The next step is to issue a request for proposals for architectural work.

We also will engage with the Board of Public Education, staff, families and the community concerning the order in which the projects will proceed. That process will include the sequencing of the projects and the specific time-line for initiating and completing each renovation. We look forward to the day when all four of these elementary schools are finally up to 21st century learning standards.

It takes a community to ensure that we meet our commitment of preparing our students to succeed in college and career. Thank you once again, Portland, for being that generous and supportive community!

I’ll close with just a few words about Veteran’s Day, which was this past Saturday, Nov. 11, and observed by many on Nov. 10.

Our armed forces are an important and respected institution and this day was set aside to celebrate the service of all U.S. military veterans. Let’s all take the opportunity this month to acknowledge the contributions of our veterans. I especially want to recognize members of our school community: staff, parents and graduates who are veterans or are currently serving in the military. Thank you all for the sacrifices that you have made to serve our country.

Xavier Botana is superintendent of the Portland Public Schools. He can be reached at superintendent@portlandschools.org.

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